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Horse and Rider Straightness training Workshop 2.

In this workshop you will learn how to:

ART is relatively new, which naturally arouses people's suspicions, so to demonstrate that my training is in alignment with the Official Rules I will refer to the Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation, Book 1, pp.136–141.

The book says: "The purpose of dressage training is to develop to the fullest the horse’s natural physical and mental aptitudes, making him into an obedient riding horse that is a pleasure to ride."

The Training Scales include six qualities:

  1. Rhythm (Takt)
  2. Looseness (Losgelassenheit)
  3. Contact and Acceptance of the Bit (Anlehnung)
  4. Impulsion (Schwung)
  5. Straightness (Geraderichtung)
  6. Collection (Versammlung)

The book says: "These qualities are essential for the dressage horses, however all horses (show jumping, cross-country and even leisure horses) should still receive the same systematic basic training to ensure that they are sufficiently supple and ‘through’ at all times. The training scale can be used for both the systematic basic training of the young horse or as a basis for a training session with an older horse (i.e., each individual lesson contains this training plan in a condensed form."

The late Reiner Klimke considered Suppleness ‘Losgelassenheit’ before Rhythm. He said that a horse which freely gives all its muscles to use its whole body without resistance is supple and unconstrained.
The says goes on to say that, looseness is a prerequisite for all further training and, along with rhythm, is an essential aim of the preliminary training phase. Even if the rhythm is maintained, the movement cannot be considered correct unless the horse is working through its back, and the muscles are free from tension. Only if the horse is physically, and mentally, free from tension or constraint (in German: Zwanglosigkeit) can it work with looseness and can it use itself to the fullest. The horse’s joints should bend and straighten equally on each side of its body and with each step or stride, and the horse should convey the impression that it is putting its whole mind and body into its work. Indications of looseness (and mental relaxation) are: A rhythmically swinging back. A contented, happy expression (eyes, ear movements) A closed but not immobile mouth (the horse should mouth the bit gently) The tail should be lifted slightly (‘carried’) and swinging in time with the movement. Snorting a sign that the horse is mentally relaxed.

Looseness has been achieved when the horse will stretch its head and neck forwards and downwards in all three gaits. A horse working with looseness should swing through its back and move with rhythmic unspoilt natural paces; it should not rush forward, quickening its steps, i.e. ‘running’. It should accept the forward-driving aids, and the rider should be able to sit the movement and not be thrown out of the saddle.

Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and ‘seek’ a contact with the rider’s hand, thus ‘going onto’ the contact. As they say in Germany, ‘the horse seeks the contact and the rider provides it’. A correct steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards, i.e., in an extended outline. THE CONTACT SHOULD NEVER BE ACHIEVED THROUGH A BACKWARD ACTION OF THE HANDS. It should result from the correctly delivered forward thrust of the hind legs. The horse should go forward confidently onto the contact in response to the rider’s driving aids. Taking a contact gradually evolves into being on the bit, which entails flexion at the poll. This should not be considered as an aim in itself: the horse should come onto the bit as a consequence and by product of correct schooling. When working with young horses at the basic stage of training, or when performing ‘loosening’ work with older horses, the trainer should avoid trying to ‘get the horse onto the bit’ prematurely. If this is achieved by use of the hands alone, it detracts from the looseness and the activity of the hind legs and so defeats the object of the training.

Here is Dr. Gerd Heuschmann's opinion on the subject.


Driven by his passion for helping the dressage world to become more aware of the terrible damage being inflicted on our horses in today’s competitive riding circuit, Dr. Heuschmann has become an international speaker and teacher on the biomechanics of the horse. His work has been a key influence in supporting ART, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him and share his knowledge and experience with you. Here is an excerpt from one of the interviews which is pertinent to this this workshop.

Joni: What you say about good functional connections between the head, neck, and back in the horse was discovered 100 years ago by F.M. Alexander, the originator of the Alexander Technique. It’s very exciting for me as an Alexander teacher and horse trainer to see how your teachings on the biomechanics of the horse support what I’ve been saying for 20 years. I’m particularly interested in your theory that good training encourages the base of the horse’s neck to lift and move forwards up and out of the shoulders, thereby taking the responsibility of supporting the rider’s weight, leaving the locomotion muscles free to do their work. Would you elaborate on that please?

Gerd: This question is key! Good riding creates a balanced horse. Balance means you keep the whole body working well as a unit. In this, there’s no difference between a warm blood or a quarter horse, or between an American, French, or German trainer. The centre of movement in a horse is the back – the long back muscles are made to move the horse, not carry a rider. Yet the rider sits on the horse’s back. So we need to use different parts of the horse’s body to bring his back up into balance. Another key, is the rider’s contact with the mouth. The back can’t be supple and the hind legs can’t step under if the mouth, poll, and neck aren’t supple and relaxed. If the mouth isn’t soft, the nose on the vertical and the jaw relaxed the neck can’t flex laterally and the horse won’t open his throat latch and search for the bit. So the key is for the poll to be supple, flexible, and soft. Then you get the rest. The anatomy and psyche of a horse determines its way of training."

Our aim in this workshop is to establish the first scale of training the forward-downward position which is essential for a horse to find his natural balance, protect his back from wear and tear and develop rhythm and looseness. We will discuss the importance of your contact with the horse’s mouth and how to help the horse to move rhythmically forward and ‘seek’ a contact. The horse seeks the contact and the rider provides it. Photo left. It is the musculature of the neck that is responsible for carrying the back and rider. As the horse learns to collect and shift his weight back to his haunches the forehand elevates naturally.

Photo right. It is shocking to see how far our 'role models' have been aloud to deviate from the principles written down in the FEI rule book and how the judges are letting them get away with it! Unfortunately we see this head and neck-position regularly, especially with dressage horses. In this position of hyperflexion (rollkur) the neck is absolutely overstretched and lifts the back over the withers in such an extreme way that they lose the support of their hindquarters and the dynamic movement they produce. As you can see in the photo the horse's weight is shifted to the forehand and his quarters are up and deperatley trying to stabalised the unatural and cruel expectations of the rider. Riding in this manner is not only an animal welfare issue, it damages the connective and supportive tissue of the head neck and back.

Once you have workshop one and two under your belt you are ready for workshop three which focuses on turning.

Click here to find if there is a workshop taking place in your area. If not and you would like me to come to your area please email me or call for a chat 0777 1811561.